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Senators start strong, fade way too early in 7-2 shellacking by Capitals

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It wasn’t pretty for the last 50 minutes

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Washington Capitals
Defence! *clap clap clap*
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We knew it was going to be ugly, so in a way, tonight’s game wasn’t a surprise at all. The defending Cup champions were going to walk all over a team whose top goal scorer was 18 years old. The fans who did bother to turn in were hoping for maybe some entertainment, and there was some, at least early on. But in the end, the inevitable happened, and the Senators fell 7-2 to the vastly superior Capitals.

It actually started off very well. The Sens got on the board first thanks to some stellar play by some new faces. Oscar Lindberg’s tenacious forecheck forced a turnover, and some quick work between him, Brian Gibbons, and Magnus Paajarvi led to Lindberg getting a sweet cross-crease feed while unmarked, allowing him to pot an easy goal. Considering reviews on Lindberg were mixed and on Gibbons were far worse, this was a nice course of action. Lindberg looked unimpressed after the goal, but Paajarvi seemed extremely happy for his countryman. Not long after, in the waning seconds of a powerplay, Anthony Duclair wired home a bomb from the left faceoff dot that beat Braden Holtby cleanly. It was just a powerful shot, and Duclair sheathed his stick after the goal like it was his 200th powerplay goal for the Sens. I’m a little more than a little more bullish on Duclair’s chances in Ottawa than Lindberg’s, so I was happy to see him score that one. It was probably the last time all game I was happy.

Looking back, I think we must’ve jinxed it. As Sens fans, we probably started thinking, “Maybe this team can put together a solid period, even after trading their best players.” But with three minutes left in the period, things started to unravel. Somehow both Christian Jaros and Christian Wolanin decided to cover Evgeny Kuznetsov on a zone entry, which gave Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson a 2-on-0 down low. Anders Nilsson played the Ovi shot so hard he nearly slid to the corner, leaving Wilson with the easiest tap-in of his professional career to put Washington on the board. Not even a minute later, the Sens screwed up their d-coverage again. A helmetless Brady Tkachuk tried to do way too much at centre ice and lost the puck and then fell over. On the zone entry, Cody Ceci and Wolanin both covered Brett Connolly, and Mikkel Boedker covered some open ice, allowing wide-open Dmitry Orlov to hit a wide-open Lars Eller with the drop pass, and Eller beat Nilsson with a high shot. What had been a close game suddenly felt like it was falling apart. Instead of crumbling after falling behind to a weaker team, the Capitals regrouped and served notice they were going to bring it for the rest of the game.

I don’t really feel like going into depth on the next two periods. The Sens collapsed. They were outshot 28-10 over those two periods, and outscored 5-0. They gave up 60% of the shot attempts and 75% of the scoring chances. They didn’t look cohesive, they looked lost, they looked like they believed they didn’t belong. Poor Nilsson looked like a goalie who felt like every shot could beat him. It was an ugly one, and who knows what to expect going forward. This was my pessimistic expectation for how the Sens would play down the stretch, and I was really hoping I’d be wrong.

Some thoughts:

  • Regression has come hard for Nilsson. After starting above .940 for the Sens, he now hasn’t hit .900 in six straight games. At least Craig Anderson only let in one goal tonight on 13 shots in relief.
  • It was a weird game for the percentages. In terms of 5v5 shot attempts, the top-five players on the team were Lindberg, Ceci, Ben Harpur, Tkachuk, and Gibbons, of whom only Tkachuk has been reliable this season. Thomas Chabot, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Dylan DeMelo were all in the bottom five.
  • Wolanin didn’t have a great night, but then again I’m also not sure of the point of playing him for 11 minutes in a 7th-defenceman role. Belleville is pushing for a playoff spot. Wolanin is arguably the second-best defenceman in the system, and he’s waiver exempt. Why is he playing garbage minutes in the NHL?
  • I could ask the same question even more for Rudolfs Balcers, who was a healthy scratch. I get that Boucher probably wanted to see all the new guys at least once, but then what’s the point of having Balcers up? I’ll be pretty annoyed if the B-Sens miss the playoffs by one or two wins while some of their best players are being wasted as scratches or near-scratches in the NHL.
  • Guy Boucher is a smart guy. Can’t he see when veteran are struggling and young players might be doing better? I thought he was coaching for his next NHL job, but to me, he looks like he’s just putting out his oldest players most of the time and hoping they’ll do better than the last time. Does he get another NHL job after this?
  • Am I analyzing this way too much? Probably. These games don’t matter. Sometimes I feel like having an opinion is like changing the upholstery in your car just before getting it crushed.
  • We get to do this all again on Thursday, but at least it’s against a more tire-firey team in the Edmonton Oilers! Could we see another 17-goal game?

Game (Uni-directional) Flow:

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High- (or low-) lights:

(I guess the advantage of finishing the recap really late is actually getting to put in the highlights)